This coming Sunday, Jan. 12, will be the two year anniversary of the post that has inexplicably (to me) probably been the most-read thing I’ve ever written. It’s always somewhat odd to me to note the things that get the most hits. They’re almost invariably stuff that’s more off-the-cuff than much-deliberated (like this silly post of coffee and theology jokes). (Kind of depressing, really.)
One thing I’ve noted from the comments on the post is that, at the time, many people chided my criticisms since I was picking on some “kid” who was just expressing himself, while I insisted that he was acting as a professional and making a contribution to public discourse that was therefore subject to critique.
Since then, that “kid” has of course made quite the career from the video in question and now has a book entitled JESUS > RELIGION. It’s still selling quite well on Amazon, with 308 reviews and counting, and is a NYT bestseller. His Facebook page currently has over 231,000 “likes.”
Now, one might argue that it was this video that propelled him from “amateur” to “professional” status, and it certainly did make him a celebrity. But as I mentioned at the time, the video was quite professionally produced, and he had already been soliciting speaking engagements for some time before the video came out. So he was clearly a professional, just not quite yet a very successful one.
But now he has joined the pantheon of Evangelical pop spirituality stars. I wish him well. I do not think that that kind of spirituality will long endure, however, as Evangelicalism now seems to be engaged in a fairly serious self-critique which is coming to look at the sort of religion this gentleman pushes as rather shallow and even heretical.
I actually ended up doing a couple of follow-up posts to explore some further issues related to the original. Here are all the posts in the series:
- Why I Love (True) Religion Because I Love Jesus
- Why I Love (True) Religion, Epilogue
- Religion, Rules and Reality
A lot of this kind of thing I would probably today post on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, but the site didn’t exist yet in January 2012. The popularity of the original post and its follow-ups are actually part of what led me to start the O&H site in the summer of 2012.
Thanks to all my readers. I appreciate whatever attention you can lend.
As you probably can tell, I’ve mainly been focusing my weblogging energy into the new Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy weblog. Forgive my neglect here. I’m still working out the balance of the kinds of work I plan to do there and here.
In any event, in case you don’t happen to be a reader over there yet (and why not?), I thought I’d update you on stuff I’ve published over yonder (since I last posted here, more than a month ago) as well as some other items of note.
Stuff I’ve Written:
- Sacrament and Culture: Why Protestants Don’t Redeem the Time briefly examines the question of the relation between sacramental theology and artistic work, by way of a link to a piece on the new Orthodox Arts Journal weblog.
- Ecclesiological Darwinism: Reformed Catholicity’s Denial of the Foundation of the Reformation is a criticism of a new (to me) historiographical argument by certain Neo-Calvinists, namely, that the currently fractured, denominationalist state of Protestantism represents an evolutionary advance on Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, which are “earlier” forms of the Church.
- The “Biblical” Argument for Abortion looks at the claim that being pro-life is a recent Christian invention.
- “Spiritual But Not Religious” and the Path to God is a revision and republication of one of my more popular posts from last year on this weblog.
Stuff I’ve Recorded:
- An Introduction to God: Encountering the Divine in Orthodox Christianity is a talk I delivered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in May. It explores some of the ideas I’m incorporating into the book I’m working on, which may well have the same title as this talk.
- Sermons: June 24, 2012 (Nativity of the Forerunner); July 1, 2012 (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost); July 22, 2012 (St. Mary Magdalene); July 29, 2012 (8th Sunday after Pentecost).
Stuff I Recommend:
- Why I Did Not Become Roman Catholic: A Sort of Response to Jason Stellman by Robert Arakaki. Stellman was a prominent Presbyterian Church in America pastor who rejected sola scriptura and sola fide and is becoming a Roman Catholic.
- Gay Bishops and the Bible by Vincent Martini looks at the problem of sola scriptura adherents declaring fellow Protestants to be acting “unbiblically.”
- Venerating the Virgin: Orthodox Christian Reflections for Protestants by Jodie Anna Boychuk. The title says it all!
And if you haven’t yet bought Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (Conciliar, Amazon, Kindle, NOOK), well, what’s the hold-up? Perhaps you’ve been holding out for the second printing, which now has a spiffy new, non-glossy-finish cover. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
I have an announcement of a major new project, opening today: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: The Weblog.
It’s been plain to me for some time that Christian doctrine is starting to matter to more and more people, and a lot of the people it matters to are Orthodox Christians, some of whom are doing some very good writing about it. You’re of course aware of the podcast and book that go by the name Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Since I already have this weblog in place, and since much of its contents are already O&H-type stuff, I didn’t want to start another weblog purely to sort out material I was already posting here. I certainly intend to keep posting that stuff here.
What occurred to me was that an O&H weblog could be a group project, a dedicated place for publication and discussion of Orthodox views on theology, especially non-Orthodox theology, pitched to be comprehensible to the serious Christian who may not have had formal seminary or philosophical training. So over the past couple of weeks I’ve been rounding up some writers to help with the planning and of course the writing. I’m also in the process of soliciting pieces from additional writers, as well. This won’t just be an aggregator for already published pieces—you’ll see a lot of new material there. It also won’t just be a series of disconnected posts on numerous topics—we plan to do series posts, both from single authors as well as coordinated series from multiple writers.
I hope you’ll join me over at the brand-new Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy weblog and maybe even consider submitting some work for publication. This should be interesting and, I hope, fun.
If you can make any sense out of the headline for this post, You Might Be a Digital Native.
In any event, this is merely a reminder that, now with the addition of a Twitter account, I’ve completely signed on to the Great Trifecta of Social Media.
(Hm. Now the phrase social medium occurs to me, and I am left with an image of a very gregarious conductor of séances.)
Try not to break anything, will ya?
After well over 300 comments posted, and probably close to 200 ad hominem rants and attempts to get me to convert back to the Evangelicalism from whence I came deleted without being published, I’ve decided to close comments for my previous post, “Why I Love (True) Religion Because I Love Jesus.”
I thank those who had something new and useful to contribute—even those who came with criticism for my post—but it’s become clear that we’ve pretty much exhausted nearly every permutation of “But don’t you know Jesus came to save us from rules and religion?!” and “You big meanie!” and “You are clearly a terrible person who is leading others into spiritual destruction!” and of course lots of “How dare you be so judgmental?!”
I appreciate the several dozen of you who, discovering I did not publish your particular comment, invited me to debates and discussions via email. I’m afraid I have neither the energy nor inclination for that, and I have a general policy of not undertaking lengthy theological discussions via email except with my parishioners. Besides that, there is nothing that didn’t make it through here which I would likely be interested in engaging over email, either.
I’ve also decided to close comments because this curiously popular post has come right at the start of house blessing season for me (when I visit about 100 homes belonging to my parishioners in just a few weeks), and I honestly have enough other work to do that it’s just become a little much. I say this with absolutely no temerity or irony: I honestly had absolutely no idea that this post would get the level of attention it has. I am fully aware (and always expected) that my weblog is a small-time operation of interest perhaps only to a few dozen people, so it took me quite by surprise that suddenly I was getting deluged with comments, more than 150 per day.
Just for a sense of scale here, my previously most-commented post ever got a total of 17 comments, while the previous post received about 500 attempts to comment. My previously most popular post got a bit over 800 hits in the space of two years (another one has now surpassed it and come close to 1000). But the post in question has (as of this posting) gotten over 34,000 hits in the space of a little over three days. More than 40% of all the hits my weblog has ever gotten since I began it almost three years ago have come since this past Thursday afternoon.
I really cannot figure out why (no, really), and I keep telling my wife that over the past few days. I don’t regard it as even remotely my best piece of writing (not that I am any very great writer), certainly not dozens of times better than anything else on this weblog. But I suppose one never knows which tsunamis one will find oneself in the middle of. And of course my little piece of commentary is not remotely as popular as the video it critiqued, which has now received well over 12 million views on YouTube. No doubt the gentleman in question is at the beginning of a successful career (though, perhaps appropriately enough, he’s also disabled comments on his video).
I welcome the several dozen of you who chose to subscribe to this weblog over the past few days, as well as those with whom I have connected on Facebook and Google+. I hope you enjoy whatever comes next. And I must say that some of you on Facebook particularly amused me by joining the brand new Prophet Elijah Institute for Ecumenical Understanding (whose watchwords are I Kings 18:27).
If any of you are interested in the more detailed critiques I’ve written of Evangelical theology (rather than the fairly short responses I wrote to the video), I recommend the “Comparative Theology” category (be sure to click “Older Entries” for, well, older entries) on this weblog. You are also welcome to listen to the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy podcast (I have a good many other podcasts, too). And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest my book of the same name.
And some of you out there are no doubt now wholly convinced I am a mercenary. I’ll be sure to invite you to my 8000 sq. ft. cabin on Martha’s Vineyard right after I get out of this rental house. (And why am I driving a Prius?!)
As I think probably happens to just about every clergyman who has some sort of media presence (even one so minor as mine), I get requests every so often from folks essentially to do the job that their local pastor should be doing.
Now, it may be that they don’t have a local pastor, perhaps because there is no Orthodox church near them, because they’re not Orthodox yet, or because they’re not committed to a particular parish. It may also be that their priest doesn’t have the time to help them, perhaps because he has a secular job, because he has health problems, because he’s lazy, because he doesn’t like them, or because the bishop has given him other responsibilities. It may also be because they don’t like their priest, because they want more from him than he has to give, because they don’t like their parish, or because they don’t want to commit to someone standing in front of them. It may also be that their priest is uneducated, that he’s overwhelmed, or even that he’s simply unaware of their problem. Maybe they’ve never even approached him.
There are probably many more reasons why people contact clergy they don’t know to try to get from them something that they aren’t getting locally.
If I already have a relationship with such a person, I may offer some advice, but ultimately, I always try to steer them toward the local church. If I don’t have a relationship with them, I may offer brief comments but typically will shy away from them. Here are some reasons why I almost always have to turn down such requests. I list them here not to talk about me, but rather as some things to think about when people are navigating the intersection of their spiritual lives in three dimensions with their virtual lives on the Internet.
- 1. I don’t have the time. This is the biggest reason. I have a family and a parish I have to care for, and they require my time. If I began admitting people into my care who are not local to me, I would quickly become overwhelmed with email, phone calls, etc., that would soon destroy my ability to take care of my family and my parish. Most everyone who emails a priest out of the blue probably thinks he’s the only one to do so, but he’s usually not.
2. I don’t know you. It’s really easy to lie over the Internet, whether intentionally or out of one’s own self-delusion. It’s also very easy to get the wrong impression about someone, because online we only present part of ourselves to our readers. It’s much harder to be fake and distorted with someone standing in front of you. Therefore, I am not qualified to give you spiritual direction over the Internet. I don’t have enough data to give informed advice.
3. It’s draining for me. If you and I had a real spiritual relationship in person, then it could be sustainable for us both, but long-distance spiritual direction almost always is a one-way affair, and the clergyman can find himself giving and giving, and there is none of the renewal that comes of incarnate relationship. And, just to put it in stark, “earthly” terms, when you call on a clergyman outside your community to do work for you (and it is work), then you are practicing a sort of “spiritual socialism.” He is being supported spiritually and financially by another community, and you’re asking him to serve you without participating in giving to that community.
4. I am not special. Just because someone writes a weblog or has a nice podcast or a book you liked does not make him an expert in theology, spiritual direction, etc. It also certainly does not mean that he’s holy. I’ve been given the responsibility by God for my family and by the bishop for my parish, and I try to do right by them. But I am no one special. Really. Don’t think that the clergy you see online are elite in any way. We’re not. In fact, you may want to question why a clergyman you see online all the time seems to have time for that kind of thing. Some of us are more “plugged in” than others, but that doesn’t mean we’re supermen. Some are online all the time because they have a lot of time on their hands. Others have just integrated Internet use into their work to a high degree. (See #6 below.)
5. I do not want control of your life. I know that some people think of spiritual fatherhood in this way, and I think that’s a mistake. Even your local priest should not be treated as some sort of holy elder whose every command must be obeyed. That’s why I don’t like to use the term spiritual father to refer to myself, even for those who really are committed to my care. Confessor or simply father-confessor (or good old pastor) delineates the job more clearly. You are fundamentally responsible for your own spiritual life. The clergy are here to guide you, but they are not here to command you such that all you have to give is obedience. You’re a “rational sheep.” Use the brain God gave you. I can’t accept total responsibility for your salvation. I have a tough enough time with my own.
6. I am not here for you. Yes, I have time to produce things that you’re seeing online, but almost all of them are simply a part of my parish ministry—I’m just doing my local job, and I happen to have a microphone and a weblog to go with it. I have them so that I can reach my own people even more effectively. If someone else can get something out of them, that’s a wonderful bonus, but that’s all it is. Now, if God puts you in my town or puts me in your town, then I will be there for you.
7. I will not cheat your local community. If there is a genuine lacking in your local community, then instead of seeking out faraway surrogates, work to establish better community where you are. Talk to your priest, talk to your bishop, evangelize your neighbors, serve those in need—in short, do the job of bringing Christ to your place. If you instead rely on people far away and use them as stand-ins for what should be local, then you are cutting short the local hunger that makes the banquet possible. That is, if you think you’re getting via email what you should be getting locally, then you aren’t working to make it present to you locally. Don’t short-circuit the development of the Church in your community by bypassing the community. If you do not have it in you to do that sort of work where you are, then it might be a good idea to move some place where you can plug in to a healthy parish community.
8. The priesthood is local. This is my most fundamental point. Almost everything a priest does in his priesthood requires physical presence. The sacraments, preaching, etc., are all fundamentally local acts, and even if some elements of the priest’s work can be published or broadcast, they always lose something in the transmission.
Now, there are of course many legitimate reasons why someone might be engaged in long-distance spiritual direction. The best one is probably the case of the person who physically moves away from their confessor after years of his spiritual direction. But even in that case, it’s a good idea to transition to someone local.
Most clergy are the kind of people who like to help, who may even feel a need to be helpful. And it can be flattering to have someone approach you because of your “fame” online. But, like Admiral Ackbar said, it’s a trap! (Especially if the person contacting you is an apparently attractive female. Or at least her profile pic looks that way. Remember that, on the Internet, no one is quite who they claim to be.)
Curiously, many of the dangers of online, long-distance romantic relationships essentially apply to online, long-distance spiritual direction. It’s really the problem with any virtual relationship. Man was not made to live in a non-dimensional world. He was made to live in communion, in community.
All that said, if you happen to email me, I will try to answer your email. If I do not already know you, especially if your email requires thought, my response may well be quite delayed. It’s nothing personal. Really. But maybe it’s time to go ask your own priest. Don’t have one? Here’s a place to start.
In an effort to put all (or most) of my podcasting work into one navigable place, I’ve created a podcasts page on the Roads from Emmaus website. It not only has the full Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy series, but also the various series and talks I’ve done for Roads from Emmaus, as well as some talks I’ve done as part of other series. It’s grouped roughly topically.
The kind gent who runs the Byzantine, Texas weblog very graciously extended an invitation to do an interview regarding the upcoming book. (That said, I still can’t believe I wrote “the interest in the subject indicated by that interest.” Mea maxima culpa grammatica.)
Get the goods here.
Because I’m doing public work in areas beyond podcasting, I’m transitioning from my old Facebook page to a new one, so if you would like to continue (or to begin) getting updates on Facebook on the items I publish (podcasts, weblog, and a forthcoming book), I recommend you shift over to the latter.